Searching for my lost shaker of salt

Margarita’s Village

Cochinita pibil is a somewhat rare dish on Sacramento menus.

Cochinita pibil is a somewhat rare dish on Sacramento menus.

Photo by Christy Rogers

Good for: free meals for the kids on Sunday
Notable dishes: Cochinita pibil
Mexican, Alkali Flat

Margarita’s Village

524 12th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 441-3600

Having just returned from the sand and balmy breezes of Mazatlan, I was craving ceviche of the kind that I’d feasted on under a palapa adjacent to a beachfront coconut plantation. Instead, I had the ceviche at Margarita’s Village, which took over the spot previously belonging to the late, lamented 524 Mexican Restaurant in July 2017.

Much of what M.V. serves made me long for the flavorful comfort food of 524, but some things have been improved upon. Margarita’s has brightened up the interior. It has the feel of a tourist spot in Mexico, with bright fuchsia accents and lively music. The service has also been turned up a notch, with attentive servers eager to share the specials and deals on offer.

But the ceviche ($7) was a large, cold, pale pile of crumbly white fish that was dry enough that it seemed like it almost had sand in it, rather than evoking a beachy surrounding.

What was actually surrounding it was packages of saltines—no tostada platform on offer. Ceviche is sometimes served with saltines in addition to tostadas, but crackers-only is highly irregular. I ate maybe one third of this dish, which began my pattern of not finishing dishes at Margarita’s Village. This is unusual, as I’m usually more of a “clean plate club” gal.

The “street tacos” ($2.50 each) were easy enough to finish, but unremarkable. I craved some fat (read: flavor) in the asada and the saucy, rich pastor lacked salt. The also-saucy enchiladas verdes ($13) tasted most strongly of crema, and the unrelentingly soft texture could be viewed either as ideal comfort food or TV dinner-like, depending on one’s number of remaining teeth.

I was stoked to see the somewhat locally uncommon dish cochinita pibil ($15) on the menu, but it was unfortunate that the whole habanero served as garnish hadn’t been chopped as salsa to give some heat. The medium-tender pork shoulder was bathed in a citrus sauce and yielded several satisfying tacos.

Yet another dish I didn’t finish was the guacamole ($5). If it was freshly made, the slimy texture did not reflect that, and it was uncomfortably reminiscent of a tub of Trader’s Joe’s house brand. Complimentary, bland red salsa made me crave the roasted red salsa and jalapeno-heavy pico de gallo served at 524.

My watery chile relleno ($13) was abutted by chalky refried beans, so those also went unscarfed.

True to its name, Margarita’s Village has a full liquor license. I sampled the “Piña-ta” ($9), looking forward to the divine combination of tequila and pineapple, but it tasted disappointingly of canned pineapple juice, although the chile salt around the rim was a nice touch.

Here’s where I feel compelled to say that the co-owner Ulises Ponce is so nice, and it was full at lunch, and… people love it on Yelp! He has a deal for kids to eat free on Sundays and an all-you-can-eat taco bar on Tuesdays, and has other daily specials and locally unusual dishes.

Mid-priced Mexican cuisine is a thoroughly covered niche in this neck-of-the-woods, so M.V. will have to bump up the flavors to the level of Chando’s Cantina and Cantina Alley to compete.